VICTORIA -- The University of Victoria (UVic) is implementing significant changes to its field trip policies now that a review of a fatal bus crash that occurred in September 2019, which killed two students and injured more, has been completed.

The crash occurred on Sept. 13, 2019, when a bus carrying 45 UVic students and two teaching assistants slid off a logging road between Port Alberni and Bamfield as it was moving over for an oncoming vehicle to pass.

The accident claimed the lives of two 18-year-old students, Emma Machado of Winnipeg, Manitoba and John Geerdes of Iowa City, Iowa.

“We know this devastating accident has caused immeasurable grief and that the impacts are ongoing for the families of the students who died, and for the other students on the bus and their families,” said UVic president Jamie Cassels in a release Thursday.

“To those who have suffered loss and hardship, the university is profoundly sorry,” he said.

Following the crash, UVic hired an independent outdoor-related risk management expert, Ross Cloutier, to conduct a review of the university’s field trip planning policies, and how it responded to the accident.

Cloutier’s review has now been completed and puts forth a number of recommendations, including new pre-trip requirements, transportation safety requirements while travelling on the Bamfield Main road where the accident occurred, and new emergency response protocols for students and their families.

“We fully accept the review’s recommendations and are already working diligently to implement them to help prevent an accident like this from ever happening again, to strengthen planning for student trips off campus and to allow us to more effectively respond to critical incidents,” said Cassels.

Students were travelling to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre (BMSC), located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, when the crash occurred.

Moving forward, before any bus trip to the marine centre takes place, UVic will establish a strict itinerary, travel only during daylight hours and complete a hazard assessment and control program before setting off.

Meanwhile, buses must have one additional satellite communication device and have enough first aid equipment to accommodate the group’s size. University staff will also ensure that trip itineraries are being followed and that seatbelts are worn throughout the journey.

UVic is also considering using the MV Frances Barkley ferry service that travels between Port Alberni and Bamfield for some university field schools.

For now, the university says that it will not schedule any field trips to the marine centre that requires the use of a bus until the review’s recommendations are put in place.

Emergency Response Improvements

Cloutier’s review recommends that UVic improve its emergency response capabilities for events that occur off campus.

Moving forward, the university says that it will expand its emergency response plan and will create defined roles for multiple response teams.

Previously, a single team was responsible for responding after an emergency. Moving forward, the university will streamline its response policies so that teams from different departments can assist with an event.

Additional staff working on emergency response should help the university communicate with students and their families more efficiently and frequently following an emergency, according to Cloutier.

Some of the recommendations come from Cloutier’s time speaking with survivors of the crash and their families.

“We’re grateful to those who contributed to this report through interviews or written submissions including Emma’s and John’s families, the surviving students and their families, as well as the faculty members, instructors and staff at the university,” said Cassels.

Reviewing the Bamfield Main road

The university says that it is continuing to call for provincial action on improving road conditions on the Bamfield Main logging road where the accident took place.

UVic says that the BMSC and the Huu-ay-aht First Nation share concerns over the state of the road, and that family members of students involved in the crash said that safety improvements are a priority for them.

On Monday, the B.C. government told CTV News that a road improvement proposal created by the Huu-ay-aht First Nation was under a technical review.

The technical review is being conducted by a working group that includes members of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, local timber companies that maintain the road and the B.C. government.

“This work takes time and we hope to have more to say in the next several months,” said the provincial government in a statement.